The clouds are expected to part for a crowd of Bloomies that organizers hope will grow, headed into Sunday’s return of Spokane’s signature road race.
“The trend is always this week we’ll receive a surge of entries,” said Jon Neill, race director, at a news conference Thursday morning. “And we would love to see that.”
Bloomsday’s return to the streets of Spokane for the first time since 2019 will see a hybrid event, with about 23,000 participants signed up to pound Spokane’s pavement Sunday morning and another 5,000 trotting a 12-kilometer course somewhere else. Virtual Bloomsday started Thursday and will run through May 8.
The number of participants signed up through Thursday – 28,000 – is expected to continue to grow, Neill said, especially with a discounted entry fee of $35 that expired at midnight Friday. Those who sign up this weekend at the Bloomsday trade show will be required to pay a $50 fee.
“We just thought, you know, what’s in store for us in 2022?” Neill said. “So I think it’s working out great.”
The last time Bloomsday was held in person, 35,244 runners finished the course. That continued a downward trend that began in 2012, when more than 51,300 people crossed the finish line, according to official race statistics.
Participation peaked in 1996, when 56,156 runners finished the race.
A post-pandemic decline in Bloomsday participants would not be out of the ordinary, compared to other major road races held in the past couple of years.
The 10-kilometer Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, South Carolina also had a big decline in participants following the pandemic.
In 2019, the last year not influenced by COVID-19, 29,260 people finished the run. In 2020, the race was virtual, like Bloomsday’s. It returned in-person 2021 but was pushed to the fall, when 11,767 people finished.
This year, with the event back in April, 16,053 finished the race, a decline of more than 45% from 2019.
All road races saw a decline in participation following the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. A January 2021 study in the journal Medicinia found that, worldwide, finishes in road races dropped more than 90% in 2020 compared to the year prior. That was likely due to the cancellation of major races and marathons, including contests in Boston, New York, Berlin and more. London and other major races held their contests in 2020, but only allowed elite runners in an effort to tamp down crowds.
That elite interest in Bloomsday was also down this year, on par with overall participation, said Andy Le Freic, elite athlete coordinator for Bloomsday. He estimated requests for seeding were down about a third from years past.
“I think there’s a group out there that’s still not comfortable coming out to a large crowd,” Le Freic said.
The decline is not likely all due to the pandemic, though, Le Freic said. There were also requests to race from Kenyan runners who did not have their passports approved by the government in time to make the race, he said.
Meanwhile, participation in the elite wheelchair race on the women’s side is the highest it’s been since 1998, said David Greig, the competitive wheelchair athlete coordinator.
Seasonal temperatures, clouds overhead
Neill said organizers are hoping for milder, gentler weather to draw in some last-minute signups for Bloomsday 2022. As of Thursday afternoon, it appeared Mother Nature was going to abide.
“We’re hitting pretty much the middle of two systems on Sunday,” said Jennifer Simmons, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane. “We got quite lucky there.”
Rain is in the forecast on Saturday and Monday, but most of Sunday – particularly the morning hours, when most Bloomies will be on the course – looks dry and cloudy, with temperatures warming into the low 60s by the early afternoon.
“We’ll have some cloud coverage,” Simmons said. “If the clouds do break, though, we’re in for a quick warm-up.”
It’ll likely be in the 40s when the first gun sounds at the corner of Monroe Street and Riverside Avenue. Any rain will likely come in the late afternoon to evening hours, Simmons said.
The trade show Friday and Saturday
Registration will be possible at the Bloomsday trade show, held once again at the downtown Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. That event begins Friday at 11:30 a.m. and runs through 8 p.m. It’ll open again at 9 a.m. Saturday and run through 6:30 p.m.
In years past, runners have picked up their bibs by last name, gender and age. This year, participants will be asked to know their number upon arrival and pick it up that way, Neill said.
“It’s a more efficient way, we think,” he said.
Volunteers will be on hand to help runners find their bib number if they didn’t look it up prior to the event, Neill said.
Spokane Transit Authority shuttles will once again be available for those who want to avoid traffic and parking downtown. The $2 all-day passes will be for sale at the trade show and at the STA Transit Plaza downtown on Friday and Saturday.
Those who paid for a pass as part of their online registration will have the pass printed on their bib number. You can re-board a shuttle after the race even if you’ve turned your bib in for a race T-shirt.
“We’re excited to be back,” said Brandon Rapez-Beatty, chief operations officer for the transit system.
Those who wish to take the bus but have not purchased their pass ahead of time will have to pay full fare, $2 both ways, on race day, said Rapez-Beatty.
Express shuttles downtown will leave from 6:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on Sunday at lots at NorthTown Mall, Spokane Valley Mall, Ferris High School, Cheney/Eastern Washington University and the West Plains Transit Center. They’ll return from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., when regular bus service will resume.
The downtown STA Plaza will be closed through 4 p.m., with alternate routes boarding on Second and Third avenues and along Howard Street to avoid the race course.
Those trying to walk north will not be able to use the Post Street bridge, which closed to vehicles in May 2019 and to pedestrians a little more than a year later ahead of its $18.6 million reconstruction, estimated to be complete at the end of next year.
The suspension pedestrian bridges just to the east in Riverfront Park are both back open for use following a $2.9 million renovation of the north bridge that was completed at the end of last month. The south bridge is also in need of repair, but is safe for pedestrians seeking to get to the north side of the river on Sunday.
The Stevens/Washington street couplet will also be open for pedestrians on Sunday.
Downtown roads near the start and finish will be closed from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., and courses along the Bloomsday route will close beginning at 7:30 a.m. and reopen when the final walkers make their way through. All roads will reopen at 2 p.m.
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